Legend says that seersucker suits began with one man’s dramatic dive into the Atlantic Ocean. Is this true? Read on to find out!
Seersucker is an iconic puckered fabric synonymous with summer fashion. It took the American South by storm in the early 20th century. This classic fabric continues to thrive in the modern day, valued for its distinctive look and airy fit.
This article will define seersucker fabric and explore how it became such a hallmark of the Southern dandy style. Be sure to take notes and commit all of this to memory!
Nothing’s hotter than a man that has all the answers when it comes to seersucker.
Seersucker’s Moment of the Century
The year was 1946. The place? The humid swamplands of Floridia.
The banquet hall hosting the annual garment convention was ablaze with whispers and rumors. Joseph Haspel Sr. could hardly hide his wry smile as he fielded the furtive glances thrown in his direction.
Was he really wearing that suit? Right now? Why isn’t it sopping wet or at least wrinkled? Surely, he must be wearing a spare?
Mr. Haspel was happy to confirm what many of his colleagues witnessed firsthand. That morning, he dove into the great Atlantic wearing a full suit, then hung it outside to dry. This evening he wore this very same suit, unironed and bone dry.
How is this possible?
It’s simple, really; His outfit was from his company’s line of seersucker suits!
The orders rolled in from retailers, and this legendary tale sold countless suits time and time again.
Just like that, Haspel seersucker suits conquered the American Southeast.
This story definitely has a life of its own, but it would have died in the water if Seersucker sucked.
So, what did Haspel showcase all those years ago? What makes seersucker sought after, distinctive, and special?
What Are the Qualities of Seersucker Fabric?
Seersucker fabric’s unique texture and breathable nature stem from its distinct manufacturing process. To create seersucker, a specialized loom weaves the fabric with variable tension. This process creates the alternating tight and loose stripes that give seersucker its defining texture.
During the weaving process, the tight threads compress the fabric, creating puckered sections. In contrast, the looser threads allow for smooth sections. These alternating stripes not only give seersucker its iconic style, but they’re also the key to its wicking and drying properties.
The puckered sections of the cloth do not lie flat against the skin. This creates tiny air pockets throughout the entire fabric. The result is an unbelievably breathable fabric that feels light dries fast, and stays cool.
One of the hidden benefits of seersucker attire is its naturally uneven texture. The alternating lines of tension help the fabric bounce back to its natural shape after drying and folding, meaning wrinkling seersucker is nigh impossible!
Seersucker fabric dates back an unknowable number of centuries. It’s believed to have first originated from the sweltering jungles of the Indian subcontinent.
By the 17th century, seersucker fabric had found its way to the West. The English merchants from this era primarily bought from Persian traders. These traders often functioned as middlemen who brought precious Indian goods over the Arabian desert and into Europe.
The Persian traders that dealt with the English called this fabric “shir-o-shakhar.” This translates to “milk and sugar.” The “milk” is the smooth line under tension, while the “sugar” refers to the grainy line of lumpy, relaxed cloth.
This term was adapted and anglicized by English textile traders over time. They did their best to ask Persian traders for this fabric, then told their customers this fabric’s exotic name.
Over time, the term “shir-o-shakhar” evolved into the word “seersucker,” and this name has persisted to the modern day!
Seersucker in Early America
In the early 18th century, seersucker fabric made its way to the American colonies. It was regarded highly for its affordability, breathability, and durable nature. During this period, seersucker was often used for mattress covers, curtains, and bed sheets.
By the mid-1800s, there was ample evidence of tradesmen and workers favoring this breathable material. Seersucker overalls have always been a staple of the train engineer’s wardrobe.
Newspaper archives from New Orleans from as far back as the 1860s show seersucker suits being advertised. This is definitive proof that Joseh Haspel Sr. did not first conceive of the seersucker suit.
Back in this era, domestic American seersucker fabric was made of 100% cotton. It was also nearly always a distinctive shade of blue with white stripes.
While this striped pattern and blue hue is still the traditional style of seersucker today, the fabric has evolved as it transitioned from practical workmen’s clothing to mainstream men’s fashion.
In a lot of ways, seersucker experienced an evolution very similar to jeans, even down to the traditional blue color.
While both fabrics were mainly used for practical tradesmen attire, they both entered the zeitgeist and became transformed with new cuts, new colors, and completely new applications.
The Lasting Impact of Haspel’s Ocean Dive
The Haspel Company, based in New Orleans, is still a major producer of seersucker suits today. While their founder did not invent this stylish suit out of whole cloth, the continued existence of their seersucker line of suits is a testament to his real impact on the fashion world.
Haspel’s dive was a brilliant marketing stunt. In an era that pre-dates ticktoks and viral videos, Joseph Haspel Sr. truly understood how to showcase a superior product. It’s been about 80 years since his dive, and we’re still talking about it!
To be honest, after doing all of this research, I do feel the need to try on a fresh seersucker suit. How can a man sit in his office on a muggy summer afternoon, being slowly choked by his tie, and not long for a suit known to be legendary light, breathable, and fashionable?
Seersucker in Modern Fashion
How has seersucker fared in the modern era? Understandably quite well considering the soaring temperatures felt around the world each summer.
Seersucker on Captial Hill
In my opinion, the popularity of seersucker suits spurred by Haspel’s dive directly contributed to the United State’s congressional tradition of Seersucker Thursday.
Before air conditioners were installed to cool the halls of Congress, representatives from the southern states often sported their smart seersucker suits. They watched their northern counterparts slightly suffocate in their stuffy northern fabrics.
To memorialize their historically superior fashion, Congressman Trent Lott enacted Seersucker Thursday in 1996. This annual event (traditionally held on a Thursday in June) calls for all congressmen to show off the best seersucker suits, vests, bowties, blouses, and dresses from their closets.
The Maturation of Seersucker
Today, seersucker isn’t just for train engineers and southern dandies. It can be made into practically any article of clothing. Its stripes make it especially popular for bowties, while its moisture-wicking and breathable nature makes it useful for all summer clothing.
Purists claim that seersucker must be 100% cotton, or else the fabric is fake. However, this point of view disenfranchises the very genesis of the fabric and devalues its centuries of rich history.
Seersucker can be made of Indian silk, all-American cotton, or even —gasp — synthetics!
The interplay of relaxed and tight, alternating tension of the weave is what makes a fabric seersucker. These days, it can even be found in a checkered or argyle configuration.
This iconic fabric has also branched out from its historic blue stripes. Today, you can find seersucker fabrics in various hues, including violet, tan, red, and even pink.
However, neutral white stripes seem to have persisted into the modern style of seersucker; it’s almost never seen without an alternating white pattern.
Embrace the Timeless Appeal of Seersucker
Seersucker fabric’s fascinating history, unique manufacturing process, and charming striping patterns have made it a beloved textile for generations.
Although its true origin predates the legend of Joseph Haspel, his company’s efforts in promoting seersucker suits have played a significant role in popularizing the fabric in the modern era.
Today, seersucker remains a symbol of leisurely summer days and good old-fashioned summer fun.
Here are answers to some common questions about this one-of-a-kind fabric:
What Is seersucker fabric?
Seersucker is a fabric woven with an alternating weave of tight and loose tension. Seersucker material has an alternating smooth and grainy texture, most often in tight blue and white stripes.
What does seersucker mean?
Seersucker is an anglicization of the Persian term “shir-o-shakhar,” literally meaning “milk and honey.” This refers to the alternating smooth and rough texture of seersucker fabric, commonly known as a breathable blue and white striped material.
Did Joseph Haspel Sr. really invent seersucker suits?
No. However, Haspel’s dramatic dive did showcase seersucker suits in a manner that made them a legendary staple of fashion in the American South.
Do seersucker suits stay cool in the summer?
100% cotton seersucker suits are remarkably breathable and cool, even in humid weather. They’re the go-to suit for men’s summer formal wear, especially at outdoor events.
Why is seersucker striped?
Seersucker fabric gets its stripes from the alternating tension of its two distinct weaves, creating a tight pattern of stripes.
Is all seersucker blue?
In the American South, seersucker fabric was commonly made with tight blue and white stripes. However, seersucker today is made in practically any color but almost always alternating with white.
Is seersucker cotton?
In the United States, premium seersucker fabric is 100% cotton. However, seersucker can be made of nearly any type of material. Seersucker, most generally, is any fabric that has alternating loose and tight weaves, creating smooth and puckered patterns.
As you don your seersucker garments, whether for a New Orleans soirée or a stroll, be sure to embrace the comfort, flaunt the style, and appreciate the history of this miraculous fabric.
Do any of you own seersucker suits? Can you get it soaked in the morning and have it air-dry by evening? Let me know in the comments below!